Page last updated at 18:33 GMT, Tuesday, 4 August 2009 19:33 UK

'Lessons' from Surtees son death

John Surtees
John Surtees shook hands with Henry on the starting line at Brands Hatch

Motorsport legend John Surtees has said he hopes the lessons learnt from the death of his son Henry at the wheel will help to make racing safer.

The 18-year-old Formula Two (F2) driver died in a "freak" accident at Brands Hatch circuit in Kent last month.

A wheel which flew off another driver's car hit him on the head and his car struck the trackside barriers.

"Why did that wheel come off and why was it able to travel at that velocity?" said Mr Surtees.

"Bernie Ecclestone was on the phone this morning talking to me about that very same thing.

"So we have got to make certain that his death isn't in vain. There will be progress - this is the way that motorsport and competitive people are."

Mr Surtees, 75, who lives in Lingfield, Surrey, won the Formula One World Championship in 1964.

Henry Surtees with his father
Henry Surtees was hoping to follow in his father's motor racing footsteps

In his first television interview since his son's death, he said the accident was "a freak".

Six days after the accident, Formula One driver Felipe Massa suffered a fractured skull when his helmet was hit by a spring that had fallen off another car during Hungarian Grand Prix qualifying.

Mr Surtees said Massa had already spoken to him about Henry's accident.

"It is freakish, these coincidences, and out of it will come something better," he said.

"I lived through a period when there were absolute tragedies to drivers, partly because of the circuits but partly because of the cars of the time.

"It wasn't until the larger money came into motorsport that you got the safety levels you have today.

"Motor racing compared to other things is so very safe, that is the irony of it."

Mr Surtees was at the track for Henry's last race.

Henry Surtees
Henry Surtees had loved motorsport since he began karting at eight

"I reached down into the cockpit on the starting line at Brands Hatch, and we shook hands," he said.

"We bid each other farewell, as it turned out."

Henry's funeral last week was at Worth Abbey near Crawley, in West Sussex. He had just finished his A-levels at Worth School.

Mr Surtees said he had been "a different man" since the end of his exams.

"Suddenly, that stress had been taken off his shoulders," he said.

The Surtees family are considering setting up a foundation in Henry's name and asked for donations at his funeral to go to the brain injury charity Headway.

"At the moment it is a big emptiness," he said. "I still expect him to bounce through the door.

"We will just have to live with it and make sure we remember the good times."


John Surtees talks about how his family is coping with the death of his son

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